Benchmarking File: Separating the wheat from the chaff

If you can't eliminate fluff at your company, at least try to segregate it to one specific vehicle. Communicators at GST Telecommunications use online vehicles for serious, timely news, and the print publication for the "soft stuff."

As communicators struggle with the issue of how to best combine print and electronic vehicles, one strategy is becoming very popular: Take all the "soft" news—service anniversaries, baby announcements, employee features, etc.—out of the print publication, and stick them on the intranet. That way, if employees want that information, they can go get it—but you don't have to waste valuable space in your print publication by running it. It's a good strategy, but it's not the only one. In fact, communicators at GST Telecommunications, Inc., in Vancouver, are doing just the opposite. And employees love it. Laura Lucchesi, an internal communications partner at GST, tells RR that she has moved all the serious news online (to an intranet and an e-mail newsletter), and uses the monthly print publication for the "fun" stuff. The reason? Print can't handle the serious news anymore. And if you try to use it to cover timely, serious news, you put your credibility at risk. "We'd get laughed at if we wrote from the standpoint of —Last month the CEO announced . . .'," she says. "Our credibility is kept intact by using our print news as a vehicle to convey information related to the corporate culture rather than trying to scoop our electronic newsletter." Lucchesi says that as long as you have both online and print vehicles, you might as well take advantage of their strengths—and minimize their weaknesses. "The advantage of having an intranet and an electronic newsletter in addition to our print newsletter, is that our time-sensitive news can be reported immediately to our employees," she explains. "Our print newsletter, published once a month, is not an effective vehicle to break news." So what does the print publication do? It covers the soft stuff. Lucchesi uses it to announce the company's "Most Valuable Player" employee awards, list the service anniversaries, and highlight what employees are doing in community involvement and volunteerism. "And since our print newsletter is our soft news piece," says Lucchesi, "we also include some fun elements—such as new baby announcements, a column humorously debunking the acronyms our industry uses, and a New Yorker Magazine cartoon that relates to the telecom industry." GST communicators are lucky, in that virtually all of the company's 1,331 employees are online at some point of the day—so there was no information ghetto created when all the serious news was sucked out of the print publication. But just because someone can access company news online, that doesn't mean they want to. For employees who won't read electronic news, Lucchesi compiles a monthly binder—which includes copies of the electronic news stories, as well as every other type of company news produced in that month. If a piece of news hits that employees must know about, Lucchesi has a communication network in place to make sure it gets delivered. "At every single field office we have a contact we rely on to get a hard copy of the electronic news to those employees not plugged in to e-mail," she says. "We send these field contacts a separate note to make sure they distribute a hard copy of the material sent electronically that day." Lucchesi offers these valuable tips to communicators struggling to combine print and electronic media: Cross-pollinate the two media. "Stories in our print newsletter frequently direct the reader to look at an intranet page for more information about a specific topic," says Lucchesi. "We have a very compehensive intranet with information about every department of GST." And, likewise, the print newsletter will often expand and editorialize on current events reported via the e-mail newsletter. "Obviously we don't run the same articles in both vehicles, but we do make an effort for them to share an editorial thread, even if the content and style is different." Write in a style appropriate to the medium you're using. "In our print newsletter, we can choose to ignore AP style to make a story more personable and inviting to read," says Lucchesi. "For example, we frequently write in first person tense and dialogue." On the electronic side, the style is hard news journalism—pyramid structure, third person point of view, etc. This style allows Lucchesi to get readers the important news in a hurry—and people can drill down for more information if they want to.

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